Statistics Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Section 1: Background and objectives

Warning View the most recent version.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please "contact us" to request a format other than those available.


The Labour Force Survey (LFS) is a household survey carried out monthly by Statistics Canada. Since its inception in 1945, the objectives of the LFS have been to divide the working-age population into three mutually exclusive classifications - employed, unemployed, and not in the labour force - and to provide descriptive and explanatory data on each of these categories. Data from the survey provide information on major labour market trends such as shifts in employment across industrial sectors, hours worked, labour force participation and unemployment rates.

Background and objectives

The Canadian Labour Force Survey was developed following the Second World War to satisfy a need for reliable and timely data on the labour market. Information was urgently required on the massive labour market changes involved in the transition from a war-time to a peace-time economy. The survey was designed to provide estimates of employment by industry and occupation at the regional as well as the national level.

A quarterly survey initially, the LFS became a monthly survey in 1952. In 1960, the Interdepartmental Committee on Unemployment Statistics recommended that the LFS be designated the source of the official measure of unemployment in Canada. This endorsement was followed by a demand for a broader range of labour market statistics, in particular more detailed regional data. The information generated by the survey has expanded considerably over the years with a major redesign of the survey content in 1976 and again in 1997, and provides a rich and detailed picture of the Canadian labour market.

The LFS is the only source of monthly estimates of total employment including the self-employed, full and part-time employment, and unemployment. It publishes monthly standard labour market indicators such as the unemployment rate, the employment rate and the participation rate. The LFS is a major source of information on the personal characteristics of the working-age population, including age, sex, marital status, educational attainment, and family characteristics.

Employment estimates include detailed breakdowns by demographic characteristics, industry and occupation, job tenure, and usual and actual hours worked. The survey incorporates questions permitting analyses of many topical issues, such as involuntary part-time employment, multiple job-holding, and absence from work. Since January 1997, it also provides monthly information on the wages and union status of employees, as well as the number of employees at their workplace and the temporary or permanent nature of their job.

Starting in late 2003 in Alberta, and then in April 2004 for the rest of western Canada, the LFS added questions to identify Aboriginal respondents living off-reserve with the goal of producing provincial labour market statistics on the Aboriginal population. The Aboriginal identity questions were also asked in the territories in 2004. As of January 2007, the question on Aboriginal identity has been extended to all provinces. Labour market data for the Aboriginal population has been available for all provinces since the fall of 2008.

In January 2006, there were also five questions added to the LFS to identify the immigrant population. More specifically, questions were added to identify the country of birth of the respondent, whether or not the respondent was a “landed immigrant”, the month and year he/she became a landed immigrant, and the country where the respondent received his/her highest level of education. These questions are comparable to those used in the Census questionnaire. Labour market data for the immigrant population has been available since the fall of 2007.

Unemployment estimates are produced by demographic group, duration of unemployment, and activity before looking for work. Information on industry and occupation, and reason for leaving last job is also available for persons currently unemployed or not in the labour market with recent labour market involvement.

In addition to providing national, provincial and territorial estimates, the LFS also releases estimates of labour force status for sub-provincial areas such as Economic Regions and Census Metropolitan Areas.